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Farmer-labor podcast explores farm economy

Anyone seeking to learn more about how farming and labor intersect are encouraged to listen to the “Farmer-Labor Podcast.” The free documentary-style series was produced by the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

The eight-part series features history and voices from the Farmers Union, Wisconsin and beyond. Episodes range from 20 minutes to 40 minutes in length. The Farmer-Labor Podcast is available for download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or online. Visit wisconsinfarmersunion.com/farmer-labor for more information. 

USDA aids socially disadvantaged, reopens Coronavirus program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency is making available $2 million to establish partnerships with organizations to provide outreach and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The funding was made possible by USDA’s new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. It’s an effort to put greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers impacted by the pandemic.

The Farm Service Agency’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 signup also recently reopened as part of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Farmers and ranchers will have at least 60 days from Apr. 5 to apply or make modifications to existing program applications.

The cooperative agreement will support participation in programs offered by the Farm Service Agency, including those that are part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Interested organizations must submit proposals by May 5. The funding will support grassroots organizations and public institutions helping producers, especially those who haven’t taken full advantage of available assistance. Outreach and technical-assistance cooperative agreements support projects in the ways listed.

  • Increase access and participation of socially disadvantaged applicants in Farm Service Agency programs and services.
  • Improve technical assistance for socially disadvantaged applicants related to county committees focused on urban agriculture and Farm Service Agency loan, disaster assistance, conservation and safety-net programs.

The agency will prioritize review of proposals that support outreach on Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2. Applications will be reviewed immediately following the submission deadline for prioritized approval and project initiation.

The funding opportunity is available to nonprofits having 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service other than institutions of higher education, federally recognized Native American tribal governments, and Native American tribal organizations.

Awards will range from $20,000 to $99,999 for a duration between six months and one year. Applications focusing primarily on Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 will be expedited. For other proposals the Farm Service Agency anticipates announcing or notifying successful and unsuccessful applicants by June 20. It expects to have federal awards in place by Sept. 1.

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 provides financial assistance that enables producers to absorb increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible for the program are producers of specialty crops, livestock, dairy, row crops, aquaculture, and floriculture and nursery crops. The initial signup ended Dec. 11, but USDA is reopening enrollment.

Producers may apply for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 using an online portal or working directly with the Farm Service Agency office at their local USDA Service Center.

Customers seeking one-on-one support with the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 application process may call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee. This is a recommended first step before a producer engages with the team at a county office.

USDA will finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications. It will begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of Coronavirus Food Assistance Additional Assistance. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted in December 2020, requires the Farm Service Agency to make certain payments to producers according to a mandated formula.

USDA is dedicating at least $6 billion toward the new programs. Visit the cooperative agreement opportunity on grants.gov and search for "USDA-FSA-MULTI-21-NOFO0001104" or fsa.usda.gov/cooperativeagreements. Visit farmers.gov/cfap for details on eligible commodities, producer eligibility, payment limitations and structure, and additional program resources. Visit farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance for more information.

Extension-specialist workloads monitored

A newly signed law requires the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and UW-Madison chancellor to develop policies to monitor and report on Extension and outreach workloads of specialists funded by the UW-Division of Extension. The measure pertains to Extension-funded faculty and staff who work in applied agriculture at UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, or UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“Our state specialists are doing amazing work on the ground and in their communities, helping farmers adapt and grow their businesses and supporting the agricultural industry that is the backbone of our state,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. “I’m glad to sign this bill so they can continue doing their good work and be recognized for going above and beyond for our farmers and our state.”

Visit docs.legis.wisconsin.gov and search for "Senate Bill 79" for more information.

Cooperative names general manager

The Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative board of directors recently promoted Micah Ends to the position of general manager. Ends began his career with the cooperative 10 years ago. He served as a field representative for five years before becoming operations manager. Based in Monroe, Wisconsin, Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative has 159 member farms located in southern Wisconsin and Illinois. The cooperative handles about 58 million pounds of milk per month. Visit rollinghillscoop.com for more information.

Paycheck Protection Program updated

The National Milk Producers Federation has worked with members of Congress to ensure dairy farmers and cooperatives have equitable access to the Paycheck Protection Program. Producers who were denied a Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020 may now qualify if the new rules address the issue that caused the initial denial of their loan, according to the federation.

Borrowers who received their loans before the U.S. Small Business Administration issued later rules and guidance may have received a smaller loan than they would under the new rules. For that reason borrowers who have not yet had their loan forgiven can now ask their lender to evaluate their initial loan application against the new rules. Additional loan funds may be provided to make up any difference.

Congress has created a separate type of Paycheck Protection Program loan with steeper qualification requirements for businesses that have received and spent their first loan. Called “PPP second draw loans,” they can be taken only by businesses that experienced a 25-percent reduction in revenue in 2020 and already spent the entire amount of the first Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Interested borrowers can apply for either type of loan or have their first loan reevaluated by their lender until May 31. Visit home.treasury.gov and search for "assistance to small business" for more information.

USDA leadership posts filled

Two individuals recently were appointed to leadership posts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gloria Montaño Greene was appointed deputy under secretary for Farm Production and Conservation and Zach Ducheneaux was named administrator of the Farm Service Agency.

Montaño Greene is a former state executive director for the Farm Service Agency in Arizona. She recently served as deputy director for Chispa Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters. The organization is focused on empowering Latino voices on issues such as energy, public lands and democracy access.

Ducheneaux recently served as executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, which represents federally recognized tribes and serves 80,000 Native American producers. He operates with his brothers a family ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Visit usda.gov for more information.

Investment in technology increases

Startups in the agriculture- and food-technology sector raised more than $26 billion in 2020. That was a 15.5 percent increase from 2019, according to the recently released AgFunder “AgriFoodTech Investment Report.”

The AgFunder team observed late-stage deals where investors doubled down on existing portfolios and the first-wave of innovations in agriculture and food technologies. But it also observed early-stage deals become larger as the second wave of innovators enjoy increasing sector recognition by a widening spectrum of venture-capital investors.

Upstream investment surpassed downstream investment for the first time on record. That attracted $15.8 billion as investors became more comfortable with food production and the supply chain, according to AgFunder. Visit agfunder.com and search for "2021 AgFunder AgriFoodTech Investment Report" for more information.

Initiative to help farmers access carbon market 

Agronomy support, digital solutions, carbon-advisory services and access to carbon markets will help farmers make impactful changes that return economic and environmental benefits, according to Corteva Agriscience. The company's dedicated carbon specialists will work with farmers and industry collaborators to uncover carbon-market opportunities.

The introductory launch of Corteva’s Carbon Initiative will be targeted to row-crop farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa in 2021. The company plans to expand to new geographies and crops for the 2022 growing season. Plans for the initial program are outlined.

  • Provide farmers with access to new markets through a flexible way to sell carbon credits for a fair price on the farmer’s terms.
  • Allow farmers to earn an estimated $5 to $20 per acre per year by introducing cover crops and-or reducing tillage with the assistance of their Corteva advisor.
  • Third-party verification through Ecosystem Services Marketplace Consortium, a nonprofit that works to compensate producers who improve the environment through agricultural practices.
  • Offer flexibility for farmers to work with other carbon-credit buyers in the future. After the initial period farmers may continue with Corteva or opt to sell new credits to their preferred buyer across the Ecosystem Services Marketplace.

Visit granular.ag/carbon for more information.

Robotic-harvester company acquired

AppHarvest Inc. recently acquired Root AI, an artificial-intelligence farming startup that creates intelligent robots to help manage indoor farms. The acquisition of the startup and its robotic harvester – Virgo – is expected to provide AppHarvest a baseline of harvesting support working alongside crop-care specialists focused on more complex tasks. The robots collect data as they harvest, which can help growers evaluate crop health, predict yield and optimize overall operations of a controlled environment facility, according to AppHarvest.

Virgo can be configured to identify and harvest multiple crops of varying sizes such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and strawberries. Virgo has collected the world’s largest data set of tomato images. That enables it to identify more than 50 varieties in multiple growing environments and at varying stages of maturity to learn how and when to harvest, according to AppHarvest.

The robotic harvester uses a set of cameras combined with an infrared laser to generate a 3D color scan of an area to determine the work it can perform. Once it maps the tomatoes, it assesses their orientation and determines if they are ripe enough to pick.

The robot also can be programmed to make other quality assessments. The scan enables the robot to find the least obstructive and fastest route to pick the crop ahead of the robotic arm and gripper. A built-in feedback mechanism constantly evaluates its efficiency so it learns how to effectively harvest any given configuration of fruit, AppHarvest stated. Visit appharvest.com for more information.

Environmental-remediation program launched

The department of soil science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently launched a professional master’s-degree program in environmental remediation and management. It will begin September 2021. The program prepares students to investigate, assess and remediate contaminated sites.

The program is an accelerated, 30-credit, on-campus offering that can be completed in 12 months. The curriculum provides advanced technical knowledge and field experience. It also is designed to help students develop scientific-communication and project-management skills for careers in the consulting, industrial, and regulatory sectors. Visit pdc.wisc.edu and search for "environmental remediation management" for more information.

'Sourced for Good’ seal launched

Whole Foods Market recently launched “Sourced for Good,” a third-party-certification program to support improvements in farmworkers’ lives. The seal will be found on more than 100 products in the retailer's stores.

Sourced for Good evolves the retailer’s support of workers, communities and the environment. Whole Foods Market in 2007 began working with third-party certifiers for its Whole Trade Guarantee to bring about measurable impact. The expanded Sourced for Good program will replace Whole Trade Guarantee.

The new program features products certified by internationally recognized third parties such as Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade America, Fair Food Program and Equitable Food Initiative. Visit wholefoodsmarket.com  for more information.

Herbicide has new mode-of-action classification

FMC Corporation recently obtained a new mode-of-action classification for its herbicide molecule, tetflupyrolimet. It's the first active ingredient in the Herbicide Resistance Action Committee and Weed Science Society of America Group 28.

The herbicide provides season-long control of important grass weeds in the rice market, as well as difficult-to-control broadleaf weeds and sedges. FMC plans to start the registration process and expects to launch products containing tetflupyrolimet in the transplanted and direct-seeded rice markets in 2023. The use of tetflupyrolimet also is being tested in wheat, soybeans and corn. Visit fmc.com for more information.

Workforce-training, economic development grants awarded

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently awarded more than $9 million in funding for 19 agricultural workforce-training grants. It also awarded more than $4.8 million in funding for 12 awards for rural economic-development projects.

The agricultural workforce-training grants will provide community, technical or junior-college students the skills and tools necessary to join the workforce. The awards will help students earn a two-year degree or an industry-accepted credential that will create better job opportunities and fuel the talent pipeline needed in the food and agricultural sector, said Carrie Castille, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Rural economic-development projects will address critical concerns such as exploring the role of innovation in rural-business vitality, measuring and building upon food-system vitality for communities in rural areas, and developing a research-based entrepreneurial curriculum for rural businesses, Castille said. Visit cris.nifa.usda.gov and cris.nifa.usda.gov for more information.

Acquisition advances autonomous-agriculture business

Raven Industries Inc. recently purchased the intellectual property and patents of Jaybridge Robotics, an early developer of automated agriculture technology. Jaybridge’s portfolio includes patents for technology related to path-planning, obstacle detection and avoidance, and multi-machine control systems.

Raven will leverage the portfolio with continued development of driverless agricultural technology — including integration of the technology into Raven’s AutoCart driverless technology for grain-cart harvest operations. Visit ravenind.com for more information.

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